Department of Defense Press Briefing by General Kelly in the Pentagon Briefing Room
General John Kelly, commander, U.S. Southern Command
GENERAL JOHN KELLY: Lita, how are you?
GEN. KELLY: What do I do? Start talking?
Q: Go ahead.
GEN. KELLY: All right.
Well, this is like -- (inaudible), isn't it? Well, very, very happy to be here, many, many friends in -- over the years.
And as you probably know, and I'm sure you know, you know everything -- I'm about to go over the side for the last time. I retire at the end of this month. Change in command down at SOUTHCOM is next Thursday.
I will tell you that the SOUTHCOM, very, very unique organization, a remarkable organization, very different than the other COCOMs, very different mission. It's all about broadening and deepening partnerships down there, to say the least.
And I will tell you the partners we have in Latin America, the Caribbean, like the United States, want to be associated with the United States. There's a few down there, didn't get the memo about democracy and human rights, and that kind of thing. But some of that is even turning around.
But they really do like us and associate with us. And they very much like -- and I'm very proud of this, the fact that Southern Command doesn't lecture them, doesn't preach to them, point the finger at them, but we work with them, and we deliver an awful lot of good advice, good education, good assistance.
The other thing we do a lot of as an interagency partner, we going to do interdict drugs in a big way. We've had a tremendous year of -- an addiction with cocaine, with, you know, what –amounts to no U.S. military assets to speak of. The way we've partnered with various nations has allowed us to interdict over nearly 200 tons, 191 metric tons of cocaine. And that's after it left Latin America.
And of course, our number one partner in all of this, and the country we have a very, very special relationship with -- remarkable people, remarkable military, is Colombia. They, themselves, have interdicted a couple hundred metric tons of cocaine on the way to the United States before it ever left their country.
They eradicated tens of thousands of coca plantation bushes, and certainly hundreds and hundreds of coca labs -- cocaine labs that are destroyed every year.
Other great partners, of course, are -- in this effort, the Panamanians, the Peruvians. As you go up the isthmus, the difficulty of interdicting drugs, once it's ashore, and the corruption it brings and the violence it brings has really devastated some of our really good partners, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala in all of their -- to a large degree, their problems are associated directly with our drug consumption in the United States, and you all know what it does to Mexico.
But there's good news throughout most of the region. And as I say, as I -- as I get ready to hang it up here, it has been a -- you know, when I left here at the Pentagon, I was given some options. And I was kind of tired of the role, I've spent so much of my time, in the early part of the 2000s, and I thought -- I thought Southern Command would be a place that would allow me to unleash other energies and talents. And it certainly has allowed me to do that.
And then, of course, you may or may not know this, and it may be an issue or not -- I don't know, but I run Guantanamo Bay. I run Guantanamo Bay directly for the president of the United States, through the secretary of defense.
I do not do policy -- whether it opens or closes, whether it ever should have opened. I do detention ops in my mandate from the president, through the secretary of defense, just to make sure that we're in accordance with all laws, regulations, that the detainees, as long as they're down there, are treated well, treated humanely, well taken care of medically and otherwise.
And we do that, and we do that superbly. And I'm very, very, very proud of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that are at Guantanamo, that execute this mission as well as they do.
So, I'll end there and open it up.
Q: General Kelly, thanks for doing this. We don't see enough of your COCOM colleagues at the podium.
Two questions, one of Gitmo. Later this month, I'm told that we can expect a large number of detainees will likely be -- be transferred out, more than a dozen.
And I'm wondering if the recent releases, which, you know, have been in some chunks lately, give credence to the argument that the military was dragging -- has been -- had been dragging its feet over previous years and whether this amounts to sort of a sudden new effort that could have actually happened earlier?
And then the -- a second question, just because you mentioned some of the interdiction that you've been doing with little U.S. military assets. There was a lot of discussion about additional drones, Army drones and other drones that would -- could be used. Has SOUTHCOM seen any increase at all in the amount of UAV assets and other -- other help for the drug war and is that still an unmet need?
GEN. KELLY: Let me -- let me -- I want to start off with the drug question. Again, the partnership issue can't be overstated down there, particularly when we don't have U.S. military assets in -- in -- sufficient military assets. In -- in that, I count the United States Coast Guard. We have some -- (inaudible).
We have partners like Canada that frequently provide a shipthe Dutch will -- will frequently provide ships. And these are not warships, these tend to be Coast Guard-type ship. The French occasionally and the U.K. In fact, I think 70 percent of our take last year, about 191 metric tons, would not have happened had it not been for our partners. And again, I don't count Colombia in this because they do so much before the product ever leaves their country.
I can see -- we can see the joint -- the joint interagency task force in Key West, and if you have not been down there, you really need to go down there, is probably the best tactical fusion center in the world. And I think SOCOM and CIA and a lot of people would say the same thing. It brings the entire power of the U.S. government into one place to get after drugs as it -- as they flow up through Latin America and then the Caribbean.
The beauty is it's a long way from Washington, and as I think you'd all agree, at least it's been my experience, the further you get away from Washington, the better things look. People actually talk to each other, people actually socialize with each other, they work together, there's no rice bowls.
So we can see in my -- when I say our partners, I -- you know, CIA, FBI, DEA, Homeland Security, it's a phenomenal organization and -- so we can see the drugs. Much of our human intelligence comes from law enforcement sources.
So we have DEA agents, FBI agents working with partner countries, whether it's Bogota, Lima, Tegucigalpa, Honduras. They're should to shoulder with men and women of -- of those countries, drug, you know, equivalents, if you will. There's no equivalent to our drug enforcement -- I mean, to our law enforcement people in the world. So -- but the rough equivalent. And that's where much of our human intelligence comes from.
Sometimes, not unusual, plus or minus an hour or two, when a ton of cocaine is going to leave a given point and head -- and head north, I might know the guy's first name, I might have his phone number. That's the human intelligence.
And then when we pick them up, most of the ISR we pick them with are P-3 aircraft flying out of various locations down there. Sometimes Navy, oftentimes Homeland Security. And I cannot say enough good things about really my number one partner, and that is Homeland Security and Jeh Johnson. So we can see it move.
What I -- what I can't do is interdict it because I don't have -- and it's very simple. All I need is a helicopter. Once we locate the movement of a ton, two tons, fives tons, helicopter shows up, they know it's coming. They throw their electronics over the side and they wait to be picked up.
And then we take -- it's a law enforcement effort, remember? And we take the driver of the boat, and then he goes into the -- into our -- typically into the federal legal justice system, and that completes the cycle of human intelligence.
So, I'm actually -- I don't get much ISR, but I don't need an awful lot. But drones would be nice, because they can stay up forever and they don't get tired, and they're less expensive to operate. But no, we have not seen anything, any increases -- certainly no drones.
A lot of the countries down there want to -- want to acquire drones, and we encourage them to do so, but the right kind of drones. They don't need -- you know, they don't need the high-end drones, they don't need armed drones, they just need reconnaissance drones.
So, we encourage them to do that, but again, they buy most of that kind of equipment from somewhere other than the United States, because it is very hard to deal with the United States in terms of purchasing things, for a lot of different reasons.
So, they tend to try, and then default to Israel, or Russia, maybe China.
So, I don't know if that answers the question on the drug side. On the -- on the Gitmo side, I can -- you know, I can speak personally for the last four years, because that's how long I've been there, 38 months. The resident memory of Gitmo is at Guantanamo Bay. And my staff, my detainee staff down there can talk with a lot of authority, historical authority, back to about 2006. And then less so before that, just because of turnover.
I can talk to my time. The fact that there is reporting about this building, secretaries of defense, people in uniform, people in detention ops, in any way, shape or form, slowing down or trying to impede the release of detainees, from my perspective is complete nonsense.
It's an insult, frankly, to a serving military officer or a civil servant in this building to be accused of -- whether we agree or disagree with any of the policies, that we would in any way impede the progress.
The president wants to close it; I have a role not in closing it, I have a role in detention ops. My only role in transfers is give me a name, give me a country, give me a timeframe, and I will get the person to that country.
That's my role in detention ops. We facilitate the movement of foreign delegations if they want to come down. We never ever, ever, ever do anything but facilitate their immediate movement when they want to come to Guantanamo Bay.
We -- typically, the process is, if a delegation wants to come, or even if they don't want to come, when there's a transfer -- a country interested in a transfer, they are provided a summary, pretty detailed summary of the medical condition of the individual.
And if they do come to Guantanamo, sometimes they will come with questions, because they have been given an advance copy of that medical thing. And not all of transfers is associated with foreign delegations traveling down.
And always, when they come down, as many as you talk to, they can talk to detainees any length of time they want -- any length of time they want. Typically, a conversation goes about 30 minutes, and it goes something like, do you want to come? Do you want to leave Guantanamo? And the answer is yes, and that's about the extent of it.
Then they will typically -- the foreign delegation will typically talk to my doctors. They will talk, sometimes, to the guard personnel and just ask, how does this guy behave? What's his -- you know, life's -- you know, whatever.
And then they leave and they eventually typically get word that the country will take them, and then we'll rework that. That's where I take over and execute the transfer.
There is some reporting about medical records. We've never had a foreign delegation, never had a foreign delegation ask for the full medical record. They're always, always, always satisfied with the summary we give them.
In one case that I recently read, misreported -- not the reporter's fault, by the way, the individual in question, his medical record is at least 15,000, all of which would have to be redacted by every government agency and intelligence agency in the United States. That would take two years.
I just thought it was a better idea to transfer the guy than to hold him there for two years unnecessarily. We've never been asked, they have never complained about the congressional -- foreign delegation access.
And of course, I welcome the press and I welcome the congressional delegations, and they come down frequently.
Does that answer it? Jennifer.
Q: So, there's a report in the Wall Street Journal today about a Hellfire missile that went -- was delivered to Cuba. And it has been considered --
It has been considered, it was --
GEN. KELLY: You've been to the post office for that, or --
Q: It was mislabeled. It was sent to a NATO exercise to go to Spain in 2014, and somehow, it wound its way through Europe and made its way into Cuba.
Obviously from your response, you're not familiar with it, but I was going to ask you, do you know where that missile is right now? And are you --
GEN. KELLY: No idea. And since you bring up Cuba, you know, we look forward to, you know -- you know, increasing our relationship with Cuba.
But for right now, and certainly for the last, what, 50 years, we've had zero relationship with Cuba, with exception of Guantanamo Bay.
But I do look forward to -- it would be certainly after my time, but one of the things that I have provided to the State Department and I think, by extension, the White House, we do a lot of conferences in SOUTHCOM, that's how we do a lot of our engagements.
And some of it's -- some of it's, I think, the kind of thing -- very seldom is it about anything kinetic. It's like drug interdiction, which is typically not -- when it's on the high seas, typically not kinetic, but other things like humanitarian relief or disaster relief, that kind of thing.
When -- and we've invited members of the Cuban military to come to that, through the State Department. Baby steps, you know USS -- USNS Comfort, the big hospital ship was in Haiti, I offered to have -- there's a fair number of Cuban doctors that are sprinkled around, to say the least, a lot of Cuban doctors that do this engagement.
Some of them in Port-au-Prince. We offered the Cuban government -- they're not military, but offered them the opportunity to maybe come aboard Comfort and see what we do. And they took us up on it.
And so, we have some of their Cuban doctors from the Port-au-Prince area come onboard the ship and see what we do. And then they invited my docs -- military, to see what they do ashore. Baby steps like that.
But I have almost -- I have zero involvement, really, with Cuba right now, the Cuban military.
Q: And if I could just follow up. Your son Robert was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.
GEN. KELLY: He was.
Q: You served time in Iraq. Can we get your assessment of how the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been prosecuted in recent years? And what you think could have been done differently, so maybe ISIS and the Taliban wouldn't be as resurgent as they are right now?
GEN. KELLY: Yeah. I just -- I can talk Iraq. You know, I've got three tours there.
But I'm a military man, and you know, a professional, and I understand how these things can be done. I think if the ground commanders there, you know, as we listen to J.C., he talks about keeping as many troops there for as long as he can.
You know, when I was in Iraq, Anbar Province, we were -- there was remarkable improvement in their security forces. As you all know, the -- awaking started their force and kind of metastasized around the country.
We are very proud of the fact that the two Iraqi divisions that we, in Anbar Province organized, trained and equipped ended up being the best Iraqi divisions, they could operate on their own. But we always had advisers with them.
I believe the -- this war stuff is hard, and it's not for -- it's not for the untrained and unadvised. And I would say that to keep sufficient numbers of intel people to provide obvious intel advisers to -- to critique the commanders and the NCOs after they out on operations, not to command but to critique, to suggest, to whisper in their ear, we know how to do this, when were doing that in Anbar Province.
When they move one of those divisions down to Basra, when the fourteenth division collapsed, we had advisers with them. I think it was the eighth division, they did it first, they did a superb job. Then -- and they went to other parts. So, you know, the mentorship, the advising is what makes those things -- the equipment is important, but it doesn't come close to having people that are just with them and over time, you know, less and less involved with them, until you come to some steady state number of people.
Q: So, you're saying it was a mistake to pull out of Iraq?
GEN. KELLY: I'm saying that there was -- there's others way to have done it at much smaller numbers than we have there, certainly at the height of the war.
Q: Along those lines, there's been talk about maybe having Apache attack helicopters in Iraq with the Iraqi forces, and also having U.S. advisers accompanying Iraqi forces.
From what you're saying is it -- would it make sense now to have those advisers forward with Iraqi forces?
GEN. KELLY: Well, we -- Tom, we obviously have a whole new war over there. You know, by the way, I should add, when we were -- when Lloyd Austin was there towards the end, there was another really, really remarkable man there, an American, his name is Jim Jeffreys. He was our ambassador, I think is a former Vietnam Army -- –82nd Airborne.
He had -- they both had unbelievable influence on the prime minister and his team that was there at the time, obviously on the military people. And it was a lot of learning to be done, a lot of advising to be done by those two gentlemen and their team, to the Iraqi civilian leadership as well as to -- and it was kind of like, if you've ever tried to teach a youngster how to drive a bike, you know, once you take those training wheels off -- when I left Iraq, the training wheels were coming off.
But if you know what you're -- if you're a parent teaching a kid how to drive or ride a two-wheel bike, you're running behind them the whole time, ready to grab the seat if they start go over. And over time, they learn how to drive the bike, and I think that's one way to look at what we could have done.
Q: But what about today? Anything -- why is that --
GEN. KELLY: Well, we were all in. So, I would say if we want to Iraqis to get good enough to fight this fight, I believe that we have to reinforce them in terms of not only the equipment, but as well as advisory capability, and that kind of thing, Tom.
Q: Forward with them?
GEN. KELLY: Yes. There's only one way for an adviser to advise.
Q: I have a question. I have a question. Women in combat. Of course, the Marines were against opening all ground combat jobs to women. They were overruled by the defense secretary. The Marine report found that mixed-gender units were less lethal, slower, more prone to injuries than all-male units.
Talk about the way ahead on this. How can they put this into effect, what concerns you in the way ahead with this?
GEN. KELLY: I would just offer that I believe, given the mission in of the United States Armed Forces to fight the nation's wars, I believe that every decision we make, whether it's a personnel decision, Tom, or an acquisition, a new airplane, a new whatever widget, I think every decision has to be looked at only one filter, and that is, does it make us more lethal on the battlefield?
Will it end up -- will it result in less casualties on our side? Will it end up in less casualties on the other side, because they're human beings, too. Some of them very much deserve to be killed but others don't, and so that's the filter.
So if you look at anything we are contemplating doing, does it make us more lethal? If the answer to that is do it -- is yes, then do it. If the answer to that is no, clearly don't do it. If the answer to that is, it shouldn't hurt, I would suggest that we shouldn't do it, because it might hurt.
So that's in my opinion. The way I think you do this is, since we're all ordered to do it, is you simply do it. My greatest fear -- and we see this happen a lot over the 45 years I've been in the Armed Forces is, right now they're saying we are not going to change any standards. There will be great pressure, whether it's 12 months from now, four years from now, because the question will be asked whether we've let women into these other roles, why aren't they staying in those other roles?
Why aren't they advancing as infantry people -- persons, I guess? Why aren't they becoming, you know, more senior and the answer is, I think will be, if we don't change standards, it will be very, very difficult to have any numbers -- any real numbers come into the infantry, or the Rangers or the Seals, but that's their business.
So we have very small numbers anyways. And then, the only science I know on this was not the Marine study, it was the study that the Marine Corps contracted the University of Pittsburgh, I think. The other aspect is, because of the nature of infantry combat, infantry training, and all of rest, there's a higher percentage of young women in the scientific study that get hurt, and some of them get hurt forever.
So I think it will be the pressure for not probably the generals that are here now, but for the generals to come, and admirals, to lower standards because that's the only way it'll work in the way that I hear some people, particularly, the agenda-driven people here in Washington -- or in the land, the way they want it to work.
Q: Thank you, General Kelly. Carla Babb, Voice of America.
Last time -- last year, when you were here you had talked about the Islam State, how they -- they're about 100 Islamic State fighters going to Syria from the Caribbean and from Venezuela.
Could you give us an update on the status now of those fighters? And how many more have gone over?
And then on Guantanamo, one of the criticisms has been expensive the base is, and I would like to get your opinion. Do you feel the basis is cost effective, is it too expensive to continue running?
GEN. KELLY: Okay, on the Islamic extremism, again, goes without saying, the vast majority of the people that follow Islamic faith are, you know, good, law-abiding folks. There are a fair amount of Muslims in what –were the old English colonies down there, Jamaica, and Trinidad, Tobago, a few places like that. Overall, not a huge percentage of the population, but significant.
There's a few very, very radical mosques; one in particular that's associated itself, himself, the imam with ISIS. We are not seeing huge numbers. I said 100 last year, I'm not sure -- 150 this year, we know a few have been killed.
We work very, very close -- again, something that we, as Americans take for granted. It is only the superb military that you all report on, but the FBI and CIA and the NSA, and the tremendous law enforcement people we have inside our country.
We take that for granted. Many of the countries, most of the countries in the world don't have anything approaching -- and certainly none better. So the countries that we work with, again, that partnership issue, we provide them, work with them and give as much information as we can.
They don't have TSA. They don't really have the same kinds of things at the airports that we do, in terms of checking the comings and goings of people. So, we do the best we can to help them. I am more concerned particularly now, it seems like the Islamic extremists and terrorists have shifted a lot of their message, and that is, hey, rather than come to Syria, why don't you stay at home and do San Bernardino, or do Boston, or do Fort Hood, and my concern as the SOUTHCOM commander, is they can -- even just a few of these, you know, nuts can cause an awful lot of trouble down in the Caribbean because they don't have an FBI, they don't have law enforcement like we do.
And many of these countries have very, very small militaries, if they have militaries at all, and they welcome the help from the United States, but did I get that? Okay.
Q: And then Guantanamo.
GEN. KELLY: Oh, expense of Guantanamo. It depends on how you count the expense of Guantanamo -- Guantanamo is a functioning base and has been for 100 years. I frankly, when they come up with these cost estimates, what it costs per detainee and all that, we were never asked -- SOUTHCOM. Someone else comes up with the number.
But I know that if you look at my Gitmo budget is something on the order of $100 plus million, but that is -- that is an approximate. But you know, the facility is in place, up and running. If you keep counting the cost of the facility which I guess, you should, I mean, it's an expensive place, but that's some cost, now. We don't -- the commissions, I don't run the commissions, I support the commissions. They have got a budget too.
But you know, as a nation, you make a decision on what you're going to spend your money on. If Guantanamo -- if to detain a detainee in Guantanamo cost more money than it would be if you say, put that person to the United States, if that's the policy decision then so be it.
I don't really have an opinion on -- on whether it's too expensive or not. I just know that, you know, the money I'm given, I spend very frugally. And as I said, they're very, very well taken care of.
Q: Thank you, general. I wanted to get your opinion on something Guantanamo-related, and also something that has been in the news.
What did you think of the swap for Bowe Bergdahl and five senior Taliban -- (inaudible)?
GEN. KELLY: Yes, it's a policy decision. You know, it was an unusual transfer in that, when I got the call -- see, I don't -- these are all very administrative things, you know, we get a -- my staff gets an order from -- we get a piece of paper from the joint staff to say, you know, acquire a C-17 and move two, or three, or one guy or whatever to a certain country.
In this case, I got a call directly from a senior official there in the building, and it was get these guys ready to go. And having worked up here before, this transfer issue was brought up, initially, and my involvement in it was the SMA for Secretary Panetta. And -- so this was a couple of years -- it's got to be four or five years, so at least four years ago and the -- and the transfer wasn't done, obviously, at that point. But I did know when the -- call they gave me the five names. I said, "Is this the -- Bergdahl -- crowd?" And he said "Yes, these are the same guys."
I said okay. I mean, I follow orders. And I said, "Is this ramping up?" My assumption was -- that question was am I going to get the paperwork on this. And he said, "Paperwork will be coming, but it's got to go quick." so I said, "As long as I get the paperwork afterwards."
It was a dicey transfer because we had an awful lot of the press down there because they -- it was a commissions period, so we had a lot of press down there. In fact, when the press were waiting for their airplane and the families of the 9/11 crowd and all of us were done there, we were doing the transfer and we never got caught.
So -- and I'm sure anyone who has done it at the time was probably, you know, should have paid a little more attention. But no, that's a policy decision to transfer them. I know it's caused a lot angst in a lot of areas. I don't -- I don't try to slowdown transfers. I -- I facilitate transfers. And I do, by the way, get the follow-up paperwork and -- and when the airplane took off, we deposited them and they're I guess still there being monitored in some way.
Q: Just a follow up on: Were you concerned that it was illegal since Congress had not been notified?
GEN. KELLY: No. I mean, I didn't know if they were notified. Again, I'm -- I'm not involved in that process. Now, I would never assume that anyone in this building for sure, broke the law. The up-and-up was more in terms of is the paperwork ready, am I going to see because, you know, I guess you know, Jennifer, we work on procedures and SOPs and all of that kind of thing. But no, I didn't assume that anyone was, you know, kind of doing something illegal.
Q: Thank you. I'm Maria for W Radio Colombia. So President Santos -- (inaudible) -- will be celebrating 15 years of Plan Colombia. I would like to know your balance and on Colombia, expectations for the future if there is a press conflict.
And one more question. President Maduro from Venezuela said that the opposition is planning an international intervention and that the United States is leading it and he mentions you as one of the --
GEN. KELLY: How did they find that out? On Colombia, remarkable story in the last 15, 18 years, Colombia. Remarkable story. Plan Colombia was a lot of people here in Washington and other places. If they know about it at all or think that the United States gave massive amounts of assistance and money and all of that.
The Colombians really did it all themselves. We did no doubt provide intelligence, advice. Back to the questions about advising and how long to do that for, it takes a long time. We're still there but we never -- there were never boots on the ground in the sense that we didn't go to field with them, we just -- human rights training was huge, how do we change our military to be better -- better than it is, and it was very, very good at the time.
They raised money through a war tax. And frankly, the elite of that country had to -- I mean, they were -- are you Colombian?
GEN. KELLY: Your country, at the time, was standing on the edge of a cliff looking down into hell and your people decided to change that. It wasn’t perfect, just like we're not perfect, but decided to change that. And the Congress and other people here in Washington working with the -- (inaudible) -- in Colombia. I think four or five cents on the dollar came from the United States. All of the effort came from the Colombians.
You know, that close -- I know it's controversial. Nothing's perfect, but you're that close to ending this war. My -- my feeling is the process of ending this war -- I remember the first time I talked to President Santos and and the minister of defense and the military men down there three years ago. My first trip was -- my recollection was to Colombia.
I said, "Look, if you think the previous 50 years of this war has been hard, the next 15 years will be more complicated, because you're trying to do something that isn't done very often. You're ending an internal conflict."
Once you get the piece of paper, you have got to figure out the treaty, you have got to figure out what do you do with all of those young people, they -- young FARC fighters that have been kidnapped, not recruited, from their villages. Young kids of 12 and 13 years old. What do you do with them after they've been fighters, and that's all they've known? And many don't know what village they came from? You need to train them. Just like as you downsize your military, a G.I. Bill kind of thing, you need train them. In fact, I use the term, G.I. Bill for the FARC, because if you don't, then all they do is stay in the drug business, because the FARC is up to here in drugs, you know, just turning into another BACRIM.
So it's going to be hard. And I hope my country and I've been vocal about this, maybe too vocal, but I think people understand on the Hill -- that's where I pitched this more than anywhere else, that let's not feel successful. We have to stand and continue Plan Colombia, in my opinion, for another 10 years. It gets smaller and smaller, but we still have -- and again, it's not a big money thing. It's more involvement in the process, and I think with all due -- and I hope, I'm not online to suggest something to the Colombian people, and that is the peace dividend is not going to be immediate.
It will be there, but it's not going to be immediate, and the idea that once the peace treaty is over, that everyone -- you know, the lambs lie down with the lions. It's not going to happen.
Maduro. As I've often times said, I spend about 40 seconds a day contemplating the situation of Venezuela, and that's in prayer for the Venezuelan people. Any people in this -- at this time deserve better than what many people in Venezuela have. It's a democracy, it's -- we just saw a great election. That democracy is getting stronger, but I can tell you there's no plan of any kind that I know of to do anything but leave the Venezuelan problem to the Venezuelan people.
Q: Thank you, general. Happy new year. Three questions, one going back to Guantanamo.
Do you believe that some of the detainees were leaving the -- (inaudible), and they had joined the fight on the streets, and right now -- now, we have ISIL and ISIS, do you think their -- (inaudible) -- may have inspired or inspiring the ISIS and young people because of their regional -- and there is no, what do you call, freely running in those countries where they were released?
GEN. KELLY: Well, I can only use the same numbers I hear you all report. I don't think there's any definitive number. Some percentage is as high as 80 percent, sometimes you hear less. I suppose it depends what your agenda is, that a certain percentage of them have returned to the fight. So be it.
I don't know. I don't have any specific knowledge of that, other than what -- again, we all know some number of them have returned to the fight. As far as Gitmo, did you ask was Gitmo somehow instigating ISIL?
No, they -- there is absolutely no, in my opinion. And again, as long as -- we can disagree on everything. I don't know of any -- you know, Gitmo is Gitmo. And the one thing I do feel a little bit disappointed about is the fact that there's a lot of things that have happened in the War on Terror, or whatever we're calling it today.
But I'm a little bit disappointed sometimes that the -- the role of my troops at Gitmo is often times joined to, maybe, things that happened in other places -- negative things that happened in other places.
I would just tell you I'm very proud of what they do down there, and I wish -- I sometimes am the only person making that point, and sometimes I wish other people would make the point.
Q: And second unrelated question. As far as the future of security in Afghanistan, what do you think now? Where do we stand in the future, as far as war on terrorism is concerned, and -- and all these ISILs, or ISIS, or also the Al Qaida and -- (inaudible)?
GEN. KELLY: I don't believe that we can allow Islamic extremists to have -- which is, I believe, a small percentage of people who follow that great religion -- I don't believe we should -- we can afford to let them have a safe haven.
And so I believe -- I mean, we know how to do these things. Some of the recommendations might be distasteful or out-of-the-box in terms of some of the policy-makers' thinking.
But if you -- if you take the point that we can't let them have safe haven, then you have to do social, economic, military action, political action to prevent that.
This is hard. This is really hard, and we know how to do it, but it generally translates to more expensive and longer-term than what -- what, maybe, the -- the nation hopes for.
I had a -- yes, ma'am.
Q: General Kelly, I believe that -- that you're the -- the most senior gold –star father in uniform. And I just wanted to ask -- do you believe -- you know, U.S. gold star families are adequately supported?
Is there anything that you'd like to see the nation do or continue to do for them? And following your retirement, what is your -- your planned involvement in that community?
GEN. KELLY: Well, I think -- you know, one of the things about losing any child -- and you can't imagine until it happens, and I hope to God it never does for you or anyone -- and it doesn't -- it doesn't matter how they die.
To lose a child is -- I can't imagine anything worse than that. I used to think, when I'd go to all of my trips up to Bethesda, Walter Reed, I'll go to the funerals with the secretaries of defense, that I could somehow imagine what it would be like.
Or when I would send young people back from Iraq that died under my command, to somehow try -- as you write those letters, to try to somehow sympathize. And I -- you know, I lost a father, I lost a mother. So you kind of think it's something like that, but it's not. It's nothing like that.
And so, as a -- as a person that's lost a -- a child in combat -- and the strong one in all of this is my wife, Karen and -- and -- and my -- my two kids. But when you lose one in combat, there's -- there's a -- in my opinion, there's a pride that goes with it, that he didn't have to be there doing what he was doing.
He wanted to be there. He volunteered. Generally speaking, there's no encouragement in our society today to serve the nation, but many, many, many people do, in uniform, as -- in the military, as well as police officers and CIA and FBI.
So I think they're special people, but they were doing what they wanted to do, and they were with who they wanted to be with, when they lost their lives. But I can tell you, it is the most -- it caught me by surprise, the level of emotional impact, and every single day it continues that.
So gold star families are special, to say the least. –I’m not, but they are. They don't ask for much. I get -- I get occasional letters from gold star families who are asking, "Was it worth it?"
And I always go back with this: "It doesn't matter. That's not our question to ask as parents. That person thought -- that young person thought it was worth it, and that's the only opinion that counts."
They don't ask for anything, as I say. I think the one thing they would ask is that the cause for which their son or daughter fell be -- be carried through to -- to a successful end, whatever that means, as opposed to "this is getting too costly," or "too much of a pain in the ass," and "let's just walk away from it." Because that's when they start thinking it might have been not worth it.
One more question, maybe?
Q: Just following up on the narrative, I mean -- you know, seeing what's going on in Sangin right now, does that give you, just, pangs of frustration or anger, you -- and your wife, and your family, and your kids to --
GEN. KELLY: Yeah. Not my question. It's his. He answered it.
Q: And I also wanted to ask about Gitmo. What is -- I know --keeping in mind that every transfer is going to be different is there a general amount of time between when a foreign government acknowledges that they'll accept a detainee and when they're actually transferred? What is the -- the general timeframe for that?
GEN. KELLY: It's pretty quick. I mean, I couldn't put a number on it. When I first got to the job, there weren't nearly as many foreign delegations. They seem to be fairly common now.
But it -- I think -- and I have no idea what these countries are offered to take these guys. Zero idea. Never asked the question -- none of my business.
So when they come, they're all coming -- I think they're just going through the motion. I think they've already decided whatever the deal -- if there is a deal -- and they come.
I think it -- it might be, particularly the -- the Western countries, it might be that they can then sell it to their -- to their own population, that, "no, we went to Gitmo, we met with the guy. He seemed -- seemed -- you know, honest in that he'd be willing to be a good boy."
But it's pretty quick. But I don't think it -- I don't think they come there, and then make up their mind. I think they come here to -- to get the check and -- and, as I say, they always talk to at least the (docs ?), and usually to the -- to my senior confinement guy, if you will, the colonel, to find about behavior and all that kind of -- and frankly, the vast majority of them are very compliant and kind of waiting. But, no, there's no -- there's no real -- it's pretty quick.
Q: (off-mic) a couple more transfers before your change of command, I mean, looking back, were there any that, as you sort of put them on the plane, since you're in charge of sending them --
GEN. KELLY: Yeah.
Q: -- to these other countries, were there any that you kind of looked like and went, "well, this isn't going to end well," I mean, or that you sort of had heartburn as you put them on the plane --
GEN. KELLY: Yeah.
Q: -- you thought it was not a good idea to transfer them?
GEN. KELLY: Well, I mean, they're all bad boys. We have dossiers on all of them. Some of them were more effective in being bad boys than others. You know, you -- we can -- I think we can all quibble on whether 13 or 12 or 8 years in -- in detention is enough to have them -- having paid for whatever they did, but they're -- they're bad guys.
I think some of that is a question about the Taliban five, or the "fab five". They were pretty senior guys. I mean, I was really happy to see that -- that their year of restriction was extended, and -- and obviously the White -- I mean, the administration fought hard for that, and the receiving country were -- allowed that to happen.
I -- you know, I read the same stories that -- well, frankly, that you guys write, about -- well, they're on the phone and they're doing their thing. I don't know anything about that.
But these are pretty senior guys. But at Gitmo, they were just -- you know, as senior guys, they were kind of not very difficult to deal with.
So there's a few down there I'd like to -- I'd like to punt, because they are pains in the neck, and -- but the vast majority of them are -- are pretty -- right now, pretty easy to work with.
When I took the job, there were 166, I think it was reported. If not, you can get scooped right now. We got one to Kuwait today, two yesterday or the day before, to Ghana.
Y'all know there's more coming this month. But -- you know -- they're -- I mean, if they go back to the fight, we'll probably kill them. So that's a good thing. So I -- I want to end with that, I guess. I should end with that.
And just say, really and truly, I know some of you fairly well. Some of you I don't know at all, but it -- it has been a pleasure getting to know the Pentagon press corps.
I think you don't need this from me, but I think it's a very responsible group of men and women, and you always try to write the most accurate story you can, and that's -- that's what it's all about, I think.
So, as I say, I will -- I will go over the side now, and probably never talk to a -- to a press corps of any kind again. But I wish you all well, and please, please, please remember: what my troops do at Gitmo is a mission that their president has given them. They do it honorably. They do it decently.
And until those guys are transferred, until that facility is closed, those men will be taken care of in exactly the way I've been told to take care of them.
So thanks very much. I appreciate it.